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Kickstarter Campaign Adds New Goal of Allowing Individuals to Hunt for Asteroids

Jun 28, 2013 02:12 PM EDT
Besides offering insight into the formation, evolution and composition of the solar system, asteroids could one day prove a veritable source of much needed resources as humankind continues to grow in leaps and bounds. However, before this can happen, scientists have yet to determine a way to retrieve or otherwise access them. For this reason, researchers from the University of Strathclyde in the UK have run an analysis of all currently known Near-Earth Objects (NEOs) in order to determine a new category: Easily Retrievable Objects (ESOs).
(Photo : NASA's Dt: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UMD )

Planetary Resources, a company aimed at developing the technology to mine asteroids, announced a new goal to its wildly successful Kickstarter campaign that, should the campaign reach $1.7 million, would allow individuals everywhere to help spot potentially hazardous asteroids (PHAs).

Called Asteroid Zoo, the program would also help train computers to better find PHAs in the future.

To accomplish this, the company is teaming with Zooniverse, a citizen science site where those interested can participate in studies ranging in topics from the formation of galaxies to the deciphering of ancient texts.

The idea for Asteroid Zoo is modeled after Zooniverse's Galaxy Zoo, which allows individuals to help classify and answer key questions regarding galaxies in images taken by the some of the world's largest telescopes.

In the case of Asteroid Zoo, however, the public would be able to search through terabytes of information collected by the University of Arizona's Catalina Sky Survey (CSS) for undiscovered asteroids in a game-like process from any computer.

"We're excited to open our archive of more than three-million images to citizen scientists around the world, and look forward to seeing what surprises are hiding in the data set," Eric Christensen, the principal investigator of the CSS, said in a press release. "The results of this effort will provide invaluable feedback that we can use to make CSS a better survey."

However, before this can happen, Planetary Resources is asking for nearly $450,000 in donations within less than 40 hours, as of the time this article was written. Initially listed with a goal of $1 million, the campaign has since exceeded that goal by $200,000 through the help of nearly 15,000 backers.

Regardless or not of whether the campaign reaches the $1.7 million benchmark, however, the company now has the necessary funding to proceed with its initial plans of developing and launching a space telescope that will help find asteroids ripe for mining in addition to providing a new eye for students and scientists around the world to examine the universe through.

And should the project hit the $2 million mark, the makers have stated that they will add exoplanet detection capabilities to the telescope by enhancing its stability system and dedicating time to monitoring candidate star systems.

"Planetary Resources values the power of the connected mind; when working together, we can accomplish much more than any of us can do alone," said Chris Lewicki, President and Chief Engineer, Planetary Resources.

Of Asteroid Zoo, Lewicki explained, "We're creating this program to harness the public's interest in space and asteroid detection, while providing a very real benefit to our planet."

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